The phenomena of situations repeating within and between human lives has been noticed by many. Plutarch wrote twenty three volumes in his series Parallel Lives, comparing the amazing similarities between the life experiences of characters like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. We can discern the same between Biblical characters. It will be apparent to any regular Bible reader that there is a
tremendous repetition within the Biblical narratives. Individuals
tend to go through very similar experiences, and often the same
words are used in the descriptions of the experience or their response
to it. Some of these similarities are so specific and humanly unlikely
to be replicated that one can only conclude that there was a higher
power over-ruling their situations. It may be that the Angels work
in human lives according to some kind of Divine pattern, and this
accounts for the sense of repetition and deja vu. But it
may also be because it is God's intention that we meditate upon
the lives of previous servants to the point where we see their experiences
coming through, in principle, in our own lives; and we are urged
on to a like victory as they attained. Consider the following of
many possible examples of this repetition in Biblical narratives:
- The way Saul returns from pursuing David because of a
rumour of invasion is so similar to Rabshakeh’s retreat from Jerusalem
after rumours of incursions (1 Sam. 23:27). As Samuel tarried longer than Saul expected, so Amasa "tarried
longer than the set time which [David] had appointed him"
(2 Sam. 20:5).
- The history of Joseph contains many strange echoes within it, as the essence of issues as well as specific circumstances are repeated. Thus a false story was given credibility and Joseph was imprisoned on the basis of false evidence involving his garment; his brothers misused another garment of Joseph to tell a false story about him. And the story of Tamar is interjected in Genesis 38, also including a garment story. Indeed, there's a pattern of episodes being duplicated throughout the Joseph story. Twice Joseph is put in a dungeon- once by his brothers, another time by Potiphar; the dreams are in pairs; Joseph twice asks that Benjamin accompany the brothers; the brothers visit Egypt twice and both times they are given two audiences with Joseph. And within the recorded dialogues there is repetition and duplication; thus the brothers explain twice why it would be impossible to return without Benjamin; they are twice accused of spying.
- Asa's faith was rewarded when he faced a massive Ethiopian army; but some years later, God repeated the situation. A huge Israelite army faced him; and instead of trusting in Yahweh, he gave the temple treasures to Syria so that they would come and fight the battle for him. And God wasn't slow to point out how circumstances had repeated, but this time Asa had failed the test: " Were not the Ethiopians and Lubims a huge host...? Yet because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand... herein you have done foolishly: therefore from henceforth you shall have wars" (2 Chron. 16:8.9). The "wars" God brought upon Asa weren't merely punishments; they were yet further opportunities for Asa to face the same situations, and overcome them with faith. And God likewise works in our lives.
- The incidents involving Moses and Jacob meeting women at a
well are evidently intended to be seen as reflecting some unseen
- When Joshua was leading the Israelite army, he was given victory
because Moses kept his arms outstretched in prayer. Later, circumstances
repeated, so that Joshua had the opportunity to make the same
effort for others as had been made for him. For Joshua had to
keep his hand stretched out, until his men had destroyed all the
men of Ai (Josh. 8:26). And throughout life, this occurs for us-
a situation wherein we were shown grace repeats, in essence, so
that we have a chance to show the same grace to others which we
- The Ephraimites came over as offended because they weren’t
invited to fight in a battle, even though they had shown no inclination;
and they did this with both Gideon and Jephthah (Jud. 8:1;
- Mephibosheth eating at David’s table is somehow similar to
Jehoiachin being raied to eat at that of the king of Babylon.
- The similarities between the David / Nabal / Abigail experience
and those of Jacob, whilst he too kept flocks (1 Sam. 25:35
= Gen. 32:20; 25:18 = Gen. 32:13; 25:27 = Gen. 33:11).
- The way Abigail asked David to remember her for good
when he came in his kingdom, knowing that he was perfect and suffering
unjustly....is exactly the spirit of the thief on the cross. And
David like Jesus responds that he has “accepted thy person” (1
- Judah and his brothers sent Joseph's blood stained coat to Jacob. It's recorded that they invited their father to "discern, pray, whether it is your son's robe or not. And he recognized it, and said: It is my son's robe" (Gen. 37:32,33). The very same Hebrew words are used in Gen. 38:25,26 in describing how Tamar sent to Judah saying 'Discern, pray, whose are these, the signet and the cords and the staff. And Judah recognized them and said...'. The whole point of the similarities is to show how God sought to teach Judah how his father Jacob had felt. Note the parallels between the he-goat in Gen. 37:31 and the "kid of the goats" of Gen. 38:17-20; "and he refused to be comforted" of Gen. 37:35 is a designed contrast with how "Judah was comforted" (Gen. 38:12).
- God created a great wind with which He brought Jonah and his
fellows to their knees in Jonah 1:4. God later creates another
great wind with which to teach Jonah something else (Jonah 4:8).
Jonah ought to have perceived the same hand of the same God at
work with him. Jonah's life "ebbed away" inside the
fish (Jonah 2:8)- and a very similar word is used about his experience
as he sat under the gourd (Jonah 4:8). In the fish, Jonah prayed
that God would save his life, and was heard. But when he was made
to feel the same again, he instead prayed God to take away his
life. Perhaps this shows that even when we respond well to circumstances,
those same circumstances may repeat in order to test us as to
whether we will continue to make that right response.
- Joash did right before God whilst the priest Jehoiada was alive,
and then apostasized; Uzziah did likewise, with Zechariah the
priest (2 Chron. 24:2; 26:5). He didn’t reflect upon the personal
implications of Divine history. And we too must appreciate that
there are Bible characters whose experiences are framed in terms
directly relevant to us- for our learning. Interestingly, straight
after Jehoiada died, the princes of the land came to Joash with
a request, which he wrongly listened to. This has great similarities
with the tragic mistake made by Rehoboam after Solomon died (2
Chron. 10:3,4 cp. 24:17). So Joash was given chance after chance
to be directed back to previous examples and be instructed by
them- but he went on in his own way.
- The genealogies of Genesis 11 reveal how some human lives repeat
according to the same outline schema. Thus both Arphachsad and
Shelad each lived 403 years after the births of the eldest sons;
Shelah, Peleg and Serug were each 30 when their first sons were
born. Abraham and Shem both had sons at 100 years old (Gen. 11:10).
And it is the very nature of Christian fellowship that God has
arranged that our human lives likewise have elements of amazing
similarity of pattern.
The way Peter was given a vision and asked to eat
what he had previously thought unclean has many similarities with
Ezekiel going through a similar experience (Ez. 4:10-14 cp. Acts
In 2 Kings 5:9, Elisha sat in his house and messengers from a
powerful man, Naaman the leper, came to him; and displayed an
amazing calm before them. This situation repeated in 2 Kings 6:32,
where Elisha again sits in his house and the messengers of an
aggressive King came to him. The theme of lepers recurs in this
latter context also (2 Kings 7:3). And in 2 Kings 5:18 we read
of Naaman as a man upon whose arm a King (of Syria) leaned; and
we find one of those sent to Elisha the second time was likewise
"a lord upon whose hand the King (of Israel) leaned (2 Kings
- Obadiah faithfully hid Yahweh's prophets, at the risk of his
life (1 Kings 18:13); but when tested again in this matter, he
was fearful to appear to Ahab to have been hiding Elijah's location
(1 Kings 18:10-12). We can pass the test at one stage in our lives,
and yet when the same test repeats later, we may still fail.
- There's a repeated circumstance of a woman promised in marriage
to a man being given to another- in the lives of Samson and David
(1 Sam. 18:19).
David sent messengers to Nabal meaning well to
him, and they were rudely rebuffed, resulting in his anger which
only Abigail’s grace and wisdom saved him from (1 Sam. 25). And
yet the same situation repeated in its essence when he sent messengers
to Hanun who were likewise misinterpreted and rebuffed (2 Sam.
10:3). Again, David got angry- but there was no Abigail to restrain
him, and he did get into an impossible fight… from which by grace
God delivered him. Could it not be that David failed to learn
from his previous experience…?
The signs done by Moses before Pharaoh have evident connection
with the later plagues brought upon him- they were all "that
you may know" (Ex. 7:17 etc.). The staff, stretched out right
hand, snakes, the rod "swallowing" the serpent rods
of Egypt (symbols of Pharaoh- Ez. 29:3-5; 32:2) just as the Egyptians
were to be swallowed at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:12), leprosy / boils,
water / blood all repeat. The signs were thus both an encouragement
to believe as well as a warning of judgment to come. Pharaoh was
presented with the possibility of either faith, or destruction.
Note in passing that God's hardening of that man's heart didn't
mean that He made no effort to save him nor appeal to him.
- The experience of Moses at the burning bush was to prepare him for God's later revelation to him at Sinai. The bush is called the seneh, three times in the same sentence (Ex. 3:2)- and the Hebrew strongly suggests the word 'Sinai'.
Balaam is a classic example. His eyes were opened
to the Angel blocking his way, and when he realized how he had
closed his spiritual vision to the Angel trying to stop him going
to Balak, he fell down on his face (Num. 22:31). But when he is
later given a vision of Balak’s judgment, the vision which Balaam
didn’t want to see, he describes himself as “the man whose eye
was closed” and yet had to see the vision with his eyes open (Num.
24:3,4 RV). He didn’t learn the lesson. He closed his eyes so
as not to see the vision, and yet God forced him to open his eyes
and see it. And again, he fell down upon his face (Num. 24:4,16
RV), as he had when the Angel blocked his path earlier. He wouldn’t
learn his lesson, he wouldn’t perceive how circumstances were
being repeated in God’s desperate effort to get him to repent.
- Joseph was told to arise and take Jesus to Egypt; and he arose
from sleep and did it. And the same double ‘arising’ occurred
when he left Egypt to return to Israel (Mt 2:13,14 cp. 20,21).
- The disciples’ eyes were heavy and they fell asleep at the
critical moment. But ealier, “having remained awake”, the same
disciples were blessed with a vision of the Lord’s glory (Lk.
9:32 RVmg.). If they had remained awake in the garden, they would
have seen the Lord being glorified by Angelic visitation. But
they didn't perceive how the circumstances were repeating, and
thus didn’t find the strength and inspiration which was potentially
prepared for them through the similarity of circumstance.
- Saul's vision of Jesus occurred with others present who didn't perceive vital parts of the vision- just as in the case of Daniel (Dan. 10:7).
- David's experience of having friends within the court of Saul prepared him for having friends within the court of Absalom, when both those men were hunting him (2 Sam. 15:35).
- Samuel as a child had to tell Eli of God's rejection of him, and replacement of him with someone else. This prepared Samuel for doing this very same thing years later, with Saul (1 Sam. 15:16); and to some extent, he too failed in ways similar to Eli, and was in a sense replaced. Whilst it's impossible to attach meaning to events at the time they happen, they potentially prepare us for later use by God if we are willing to be used.
- The Shunamite woman stood "in the door", i.e. on the threshhold, when Elisha gave her the message that she would have a child (2 Kings 4:15). This was surely to help her see the similarities with Abraham and Sarah in the tent door, who were given the same message; and they like the Shunamite woman almost lost and then 'received back' the promised son.
- David was tested by God in the matter of sparing the life of his enemy Saul- and he came through the test with flying colours (1 Sam. 26). But soon afterwards, he was tested again in the same area in the matter of Nabal- and he initially failed, intent as he was to take the life of his enemy Nabal (1 Sam. 28). Thus a circumstance can repeat over a matter in which we were previously successful- and we can still fail that test.
- God gave a prophecy about Tyre the generation before Judah went into exile for 70 years. He said that Tyre would be forgotten for 70 years and then would be visited by Yahweh and revived (Is. 23:17). Surely this was in order to prepare those who had ears to hear to the fact that if God could operate like this with Tyre, how much more could He revive and "visit" His beloved people after 70 years.
- Especially do we find the essence of the Red Sea deliverance
repeated in life after life, situation after situation, in Israel's
history. This happens to the extent that some of the Psalms can
speak as if we were there present; and Paul stresses how that
passage through water remains a type of the baptism of every believer
to this day (1 Cor. 10:1). Take for example how just as Yahweh
confounded Israel's enemies at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:24), so He
did in Deborah's victory over Sisera (Jud. 4:15); and "not
one was left" (Jud. 4:16), just as happened with the Egyptians
For other examples of repetition in Biblical narratives see 2 Kings
7:9,11,16; 2 Sam. 10:3 [cp. David sending his men to Nabal- but
he doesn’t learn the lesson this time]; 1 Chron. 7:22 [cp. Jacob
being comforted by his sons over the loss of Joseph]; Benaiah killed
a lion in order to prepare him for killing two lionlike men (1 Chron.
11:22); Peter, James and John were asleep at the transfiguration,
but became “fully awake” and therefore beheld the Lord’s glory (Lk.
9:32)- they feel asleep in Gethsemane, and didn’t learn from the
An extended example of this repetition in Biblical narratives is
to be found in the remarkable parallels between the sufferings of
Stephen and the Lord Jesus, as tabulated by M. Ashton:
Realizing, sensing how he was living out the sufferings of his
Lord, all this really motivated Stephen; when he asked for forgiveness
for his tormentors and asked for his spirit to be received (7:59,60),
he was so evidently reflecting the words of the Lord in His time
of final agony and spiritual and physical extension (Lk. 23:34,46).
He saw the similarities between his sufferings and those of the
Lord; and therefore he went ahead and let the spirit of the Lord
Jesus live in him. He personalized those words of the Lord which
he already well knew, and made them his own.
The record of Samson has a large number of these repetition in
Biblical narrative. They are situations where he was connected into
the experience of those who had gone before:
The Samson record seems to be framed to repeat the experiences
of those who had gone before him: Job, Jacob and Gideon.
One can also recount such instances of repetition in the narratives
of our own lives. Our experiences connect with those of Biblical
characters- and thus the Biblical records become alive and intensely
personal for each of us. Further, we see similarities in patterns
and experiences between our lives and those of others contemporary
with us. This is surely to enable the principle of 2 Cor. 1:4- that
if we suffer anything, it is so that we can mediate comfort to those
who suffer as we do. To go into our shells and not do this not only
makes our own sufferings harder, but frustrates the very purpose
of them. The repeating similarities between our lives and those
of others also reveal to us that God at times arranges for us to
suffer from our alter ego- persons who behave similarly
to us, and who through those similarities cause us suffering. In
this way we are taught the error of our ways, both past and present.
It seems that Jacob the deceiver suffered in this way from Laban
the deceiver- in order to teach him and cause his spiritual growth.
For example, as Jacob deceived his blind father relating to an important
family matter, so Laban deceived Jacob in the darkness of the wedding
night. And Jacob learnt from this- whereas Laban [so it seems] just
didn't "get it". Indeed, so many themes repeated in Jacob's
life in order to teach him. For example, when he first meets Rachel,
there are three other flocks of sheep waiting to be watered (Gen.
29:2); but the implication of Gen. 29:10 is that Jacob rolled away
the stone from the well and watered them and ignored the other three
flocks. But did not this stone return upon his own head when God
rolled away the reproach of the other three women in Jacob's life
(Leah and the two servant girls) but not that of Rachel, who initially
The repetition of circumstance in our lives is not only to teach
us, but to make sure that we learnt the lesson- for what teacher
doesn't give pupils exercises to practice the theory they've learnt?
It seems that Joseph, acting on God's behalf and as a type of Christ,
manipulated circumstances so that his brothers would have deja
vu experiences. Thus he sets things up to tempt them with freedom
if they again betray their younger brother (Benjamin) and are thoughtless
to their father's pain. The united, frank and open response of the
brothers (Gen. 44:13,16,17) showed how they had indeed learnt their
All this makes sense of how Biblical characters are indeed "types
of us". Once we realize that our lives are being overruled
to have similarities with them, then we come to Scripture
with a far greater personal verve for understanding and insight.
Ray Foster put it so well: "Typology is rather more than a
matter of literary style: it is a re-calling or re-presentation
of the past event so that it becomes a contemporary kairos,
calling men into obedience and response now" (1). Supremely is all this relevant to the connections between our own experiences and those of the Lord Jesus. We see men like Paul having their lives moulded in order to fellowship with the sufferings of Christ (2). There were some aspects in which Paul had to chose to fill up what was still lacking of his experience of Christ’s sufferings (Col. 1:24). But there were others in which Paul’s life was set up by God as a reflection of Christ’s- e.g. they were born within a year or so of each other, and it seems Paul also went into exile (in Tarsus) as a baby, fleeing persecution in Israel.
(1) R.S. Foster, The Restoration of Israel (London: Darton,
Longman and Todd, 1970) p. 82.